Installing Moby, Week 2

Entry begun Saturday, April 18, 9:55 am

During the week of Monday, April 6, we had two major areas of the exhibition to attend to, plus a number of “loose fish” to bring into play.  One of the latter was Kevin Schultz’s Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish, a photo collage he had assembled around the “negative space” of a white whale.  I had been storing it for him in advance of the exhibition and when I brought it out of the storage space I saw that a few of the photos had curled and two had fallen off.  Kevin is a double major in English and Journalism who is now completing his senior year, so he was able to retrieve it from my office at the school and make the necessary repairs.  Kevin’s combination of image and text makes the perfect introduction to the works we are showing in the Local History room on the third floor of the library.  The quote he embeds in the body of the absent whale ends with Ishmael’s question, “And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and Fast-Fish, too?”

kevin with cabinets 2

Deeper in the Local History room we had been reserving a place for Jordan Small’s charcoal drawing entitled Ahab.  This work has been on extended loan to the office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences for two years.  When the current dean agreed to loan it to our exhibition, I brought it to the library and placed it on a tripod near the Captain Ahab photos by Caitlin Sparks in front of the north window.  Two views of Ahab—Jordan’s intense, in-your-face portrait of the kind of man he knows all too well versus Caitlin’s more evocative and elusive vision.

jordan's ahab 2

As Emma Rose and I were installing our sequence of works along the cabinet tops in the local history room, we realized that we would have room in the rest of the building for two more works by one of the artists, Amanda Monds, that were still in her possession.  Amanda’s charcoal drawing, in which Queequeg is staring down death, is the fourth work on the row of cabinets just beyond Kevin’s photo collage.  The two other works we were hoping to add were Unsolved to the Last, her painting of a tattooed sperm whale, and Ahab, an abstract portrait of the captain in three colors.

amanda with 3 mobys vertical

amanda hadley jona by case

Amanda is a recent graduate of the English department who is now teaching first-grade in Indpendence, Kentucky.  She has also married and has given birth to a beautiful girl.  Amanda was happy to loan her two additional works to the show, and she brought them to the library with daughter Hadley and her mother-in-law Jona.

matt with retouched paintingAnother “loose fish” was Your eyes are my eyes, Matt Ruiz’s acrylic painting inspired by the communion between man and whale in “Grand Armada” chapter.  I had been storing it for him in advance of the exhibition, but during the Emily Dickinson Exhibition in February he had decided that he would like to make a few revisions on the canvas he had painted two years ago.  He had taken it home after the Dickinson event and now he was bringing it back with it looking just as he wanted.  I had been hoping he could serve as trouble-shooter-in-chief during the Moby Marathon, as he had during the Dickinson one, but he had since gotten the job he was hoping for at the Cincinnati Zoo and will be working all day on both the Saturday and the Sunday.  He will be able to work the last Marathon shift on Sunday night, and will be taking his turn at reading as we near the end of the book.

Emma Rose trying to separate small super magnets

Emma Rose trying to separate small super magnets

Now that we had most of our artworks in place on the top two floors, it was time to make our final decisions about the main display case.  We knew we wanted the two posters of digital art by Ben De Angelis on one side of the case and the linoleum cut of the Whale Dinner by Ronnie Sickinger on the other.  Displaying Ben’s works was a challenge because they had no backing and could not be shown on a tripod.  Gary Pilkington solved that problem by offering a vertical metallic display stand to which the could attach the posters with magnets.  The first magnets we tried did not hold, so at this juncture we learned about “super magnets” and got some.

 Ben’s posters fast to the metal

Ben’s posters fast to the metal

Ronnie Sickinger’s linoleum print on the other side rested nicely on a tripod, but it needed some support, so I got some foam board from Michael’s cut to size.  We knew we wanted this on the right side of the case because his image of some whales sitting down to feast on whalers contrasts so nicely with Camilla Asplen’s artist cookbook The Whale as a Dish (Ronnie’s image is a riff on Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving Dinner).  It is fun to watch people come up to this work and take a double take.  At first we had thought this was the only work by Ronnie we would have room for in the show, but when some new space opened up for us on the Children’s floor we realized we might be able to use his other two linoleum cuts as well.  Ronnie is a high-school English teacher in Indiana and I hope I can get hold of him by the time of the Marathon Reading.

3 whale & dish works

Within the body of the display case, there would be many ways to deploy the variety of work we had been storing there since the beginning of the installation.  Some of our choices were ruled by necessity.  Gary said that Nancy Vagedes’ ceramic white white whale looming over Ahab in his whale boat was too heavy for a glass shelf and would have so sit on the bottom of the case.  We did take advantage of the fact that the shelves themselves were adjustable.  But the most telling decision was made by Emma Rose independent of any external factors.  She realized that Danielle Wallace’s Moby-Dick tea set could still be read as a tea set even if its cups were deployed throughout the case. This allowed up to put Ahab’s cracked tea cup, for example, near Ahab’s Iron Crown and the Ahab Family Portrait on the top left shelf.  We placed the cups depicting the last days of he chase on a lower shelf, so you can see those members of Ahab’s crew where are dying inside the Chase cup as well as Fedallah lashed to the side of the white cup named for him.

ahab shelf

lower right case

Originally we had wanted Nancy Vagedes’ ceramic white whale in front of Rob Detmering’s thee Pasteboard Mask paintings up on the top left shelf, but we found that the juxtaposition worked just as well at the bottom of the case on the left.  Even though the tapering body of Moby Dick himself slants through one side of the Rob’s Polka Dick painting, the transition from Peppermint Ahab on the left through Polka Dick in the middle to Cobweb Ishmael on the right is still strongly felt.  Rob had mentioned in his artist statement that the white bars in the rigid Peppermint Ahab painting, and the large white dot in the spacious Polka Moby painting, and the white hexagon at the heart of the Cobweb Ishmael had all symbolized, for him, presence and allure of the white whale.  Here Nancy’s white ceramic shape activates Rob’s symbolic intention.  Rob is now a literature reference librarian at the University of Louisville, and he is hoping to come up for the Marathon.

lower left clean

As soon as we had arranged the display case pretty much as we wanted it, I took a photo of Emma Rose standing next to the case and we moved on to the last major area in the library, the Children’s section of the building at the foot of the stairwell.

emma with case and right wing

Once we found out we could borrow those two other pieces from Amanda, and also a second large work that Katie Davidson offered for the show when I picked up the one she had already agreed to loan, we realized that we could fill two walls on this lowest level of the building—the long wall to the left as you enter from the stairwell and the shorter wall that runs at right angles to it.  One advantage of this space over other parts of the library is that there is a wire and tracking system by which we could hang works that have wires or other hardware on the back.  Unfortunately, only one of the eight works we had now chosen for this level were so fitted.  We became expert in the use of Velcro command strips which can hold the back of an artwork securely to the wall without leaving any mark on the wall when removed.

The long wall was just the right length for seven of the eight works we had chosen for this level of the library.  We knew we wanted to put a linoleum cut by Ronnie Sickinger at either end of the seven.   At the far left we put his Birth of Ishmael, a variation on Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.  At the far right we put his Gothic Whales, a variation on Grant Wood’s American Gothic.   In the center we decided to put the one work that hung from a wire, the photo collage I had made of my Spring 1996 class on the day we visited the Block Museum at Northwestern University in late February to see Beth Schultz’s Moby-Dick exhibition Unpainted to the Last.

all seven children's 2

Northern Kentucky Students at Unpainted to the last i Evanston, Illinios, in February 1996

Northern Kentucky students at Unpainted to the Last in Evanston, Illinois, in February 1996

In January 1996 we had studied Moby-Dick itself.  We had spent most of February studying Schultz’s companion book to the exhibition, also entitled Unpainted to the Last.  Upon arriving at the museum, I had asked each student to take half an hour to wander through the exhibition to find the single work that most strongly impressed them in person.  When we gathered together to hear why each student had chosen the work he or she did, I took the photographs that are currently on the lower floor of the library in Covington.  It was after that trip to Evanston that members of this class asked if I would be willing to “toss” my syllabus for the rest of the semester “overboard” so they could create an art exhibition of their own to which each class member would contribute.  Fred North’s two Lee Shore paintings in 1994 and the group exhibition mounted by this class in 1996 were the combined inspiration for the exhibition that is now materializing twenty years later in Covington.

NKU Moby students mount their own exhibition in April 1996

NKU Moby students mount their own exhibition in April 1996

The photo immediately above of the artwork exhibited by the entire class in April 1996 includes quite a few of the works we have recently installed in the Covington exhibition.  At the far left of the 1996 installation was Abby Schlachter’s Queequeg in her Coffin I, now in the alcove of the stairwell.  To the right of Abby’s first body cast was Brian Cruey’s suite of four photographs, now on the stack fronts in the Local History room.  On the first pedestal to the right of Brian’s photographs was Bill Fletcher’s first Ahab artist book, now directly below Ahab’s Iron Crown on the upper left of the display case;  To the right of the second pedestal was Aaron Zlatkin’s Spouter-Inn Painting: Revealed, now in the rock garden.  And to the right of Aaron’s painting was the collage of the photos I had taken two months earlier at the Evanston exhibition, not yet framed.

ronnie ellen and katiel with labels 2On the left side of the long wall on the lower level of the of the Covington library, we mounted Ellen Bayer’s My Symphony from 1998 and Katie Davidson’s Moby-Dick—The Story from 2003 to the right of Ronnie Sickinger’s Birth of Ishmael.  In Ellen’s painting the unpainted shape of the white whale frames the one tear that Ahab drops into the sea.  Katie gives us the whole story of the novel in a seamless trajectory of abstract color and shape.  Ronnie’s Ishmael, stranded on Queequeg’s coffin, covers his private parts the way Venus does in Botticelli’s seashell.

emily amanda and ronnie with labelsOn the right side of the same wall we mounted Emily Grant’s I Spy Melville from 2010 and Amanda Monds’ Ahab from 2011 to the left of Ronnie’s Gothic Whales.  Emily in her I Spy collage incorporates images from popular culture the way a student writing a research paper incorporates footnoted sources.  The bright center of Amanda’s Ahab is being swallowed and compressed by Ahab’s inner demons.  In Ronnie’s riff on American Gothic, the whales are holding harpoons rather than pitchforks, and their faces are flattened from the volume they have at sea.

The installation on the lower floor of the building was completed a few days later when we mounted Katie Davidson’s Obsession at a right angle to the long row of seven.  The obsession is Ahab’s, his demented gestural energy disfiguring the blood-red sea and obliterating the melange of words jammed together in the shape of a maimed whale.

katie's obsessoin

The installation process always brings unexpected challenges and pleasures.  One of the pleasures while working on the children’s floor came when a very small girl, maybe six years old, came down the staircase and saw Carola Bell’s monotype Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton on the tripod to the right. “That looks like Picasso,” she said decisively.  Kids of all ages seem immediately intrigued by Abby Schlachter’s inscribed body casts and the pregnant shape of her Life Buoy belly.  Each successive week we have come to feel more and more that this public library is the best possible place for our show.

carola measurements 2

Carola Bell’s Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton

piazza in reading room One of the last “loose fish” that remained was Janet Cheek’s diorama of Melville’s Piazza from my American Short Story class in 1999.  Janet had been intrigued by Melville’s 1856 short story “The Piazza,” inspired by Arrowhead, the home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in which Melville had finished Moby-Dick in 1851.  Janet’s sweet construction of cardboard, wood, and stone would sit flat anywhere.  We found the perfect place for it in the middle of the Local History room on the third floor.  Not long after placing it there, I learned from Claire Illouz, our featured guest at the Dickinson Fest in February, that she has been invited to make a presentation about The Whiteness, her artist book about Moby-Dick, at Arrowhead in August.

The piazza side of Melvilles Arrowhead home

The piazza side of Melville’s Arrowhead home

Claire’s August 3 presentation at Arrowhead will follow by one day the premiere of a new musical work commissioned from Claire’s mother Betsey Jolas by the Tanglewood Music Festival.  The Tanglewood Festival occupies the plot of land on which Nathaniel Hawthorne had lived iin Lenox in 1850 and 1851, when Melville had ridden over on his horse from Pittsfield for artistic inspiration.


Installing Moby, Day 4

Entry begun Friday, April 10, 4:45 am

Another long series of thunderous storms has kept me awake for at least an hour now, so I may as well began this entry about our fourth installation day, last Friday, April 3.  This was a very satisfying day because Emma Rose and I now had most of our hundred-plus works under one roof and were able make some final decisions about what to show where in many different areas of the building.  Deciding these things together resulted in a much better show than anything I could have created myself.

Now that we had most of Kathleen’s works frorm Dry Ridge and most of the major works that had remained in my office, I brought most of what I still had in my house in Bellevue to the library that morning.   One of the works I first brought in was Shawn Buckenmeyer’s I & Q.  I immediately grabbed a tripod and took it up to the balcony over which the quilts were hanging, because I wanted to see how it would look next to the Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane that Mary Belperio had brought in the day before.  These two works in entirely different media dramatizing the loving friendship of Ishmael and Queequeg looked great together, and I was entirely satisfied.  Emma Rose also thought they went well together, but she felt we needed one more work to go with them, since three works often relate more richly than two.  I found out what she meant later in the day when I saw that she had brought Jessica Stone’s Fast-Fish—Loose-Fish to join them, a perfect match in color, shape, and theme:

three on balcony 2

Jessica’s Fast-Fish–Loose-Fish, Shawn’s I & Q, and Mary’s Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane

seven whales

Our biggest challenge in the morning was choosing those works that would look best on the large slatted wall outside the back of the meeting room on the main floor.  We drew upon the five we would have shown the horizontal wall that was now no longer available, and the nine we had originally chosen for this wall, to create the best possible combination, both visually and thematically.  We knew we wanted to start with Piercefield’s Moby Dick: a mighty mildness.  A nice contrast to that singular, colorful, horizontal image would be Laura Bird’s narrative, vertical woodcut in black and white, A Tale in Ninths.  From there it seemed natural to add Cara Dyne’s Three Perspectives on the Whale, whose horizontal Moby Dick in paint on canvas was swimming in the opposite direction from the Moby Dick in Kathleen’s mixed-media print. These three fit the upper area of the available space very nicely.

We knew we wanted Piercefield’s From the Headwaters of the Eternities and Stephen Wheeler’s The Worsting of Ahab somewhere on the lower level, and they fit quite well, both visually and thematically, directly under Piercefield’s Moby Dick diptych.  The eye of the whale in Kathleen’s Headwaters print takes us deep into the life of the whale and its companion creatures long before man existed, whereas the rise of the White Whale in Stephen’s depiction of the Third Day of the Chase takes us to the end of Melville’s novel—and Ahab’s life.

Piercefield's Moby Dick, Piercefield's From the Headwaters of the Eternities, and Wheeler's The Worsting of Ahab

Kathleen’s Moby Dick, her From the Headwaters of the Eternities, and Stephen’s The Worsting of Ahab

Veronica Mitchell’s horizontal depiction of Moby Dick on the Third Day of the Chase is a beautiful complement to Stephen’s vertical rendering, and its three-part design as a triptych in tile relates well to Laura Bird’s nine-part print and Cara Dyne’s three-part painting above it.  Thematically, Carola Bell’s Shades of Ahab monotype leaves us with the abstract reside of Ahab’s obsessive quest, her mastery of the medium giving perfect expression to the “great shroud of the sea that rolled as it rolled five thousand years ago.”  The dark green and orange against the patches of white in Carola’s print gives new expression to the brighter green and orange in Cara’s three-part painting, whose bright blue bathing the whale’s tail in its left section deepens the darker blue in the right section of Veronica’s triptych.

Clockwise from top left: Laura’s A Tale in Ninths, Cara’s Three Perspectives on the White Whale, Carola’s Shades of Ahab, Veronica’s The Third Day #2

Emma Rose and I loved working on this slatted wall because it was very easy to move the works up or down or to the side to achieve the best balance among them.  Once they were attached to the wall, she immediately saw that they would be more effective in a “jigsaw” arrangement (as opposed to the more uniform straight rows I might myself have aimed for).  After we had the seven works in place on this wall, we now had to find places for the remaining works that would have been here according to our original plan.

We have already seen that Emma Rose found a place for Jessica’s Fast-Fish—Loose-Fish next to Shawn’s I & Q and Mary’s Snuggles up on the balcony.  Yesterday we had found the perfect spot for Kathleen’s Pip: Surrender next to Aaron’s Spouter-Inn Painting and Fred’s Lee Shore in the rock garden.  We now took our remaining “loose fish” from this wall up to the Local History room to see if we could find a home for them there.

Yesterday we had hung Kathleen’s map of the Voyage of the Pequod on the east side of the central pillar and her Ahab: thou must not follow on the north side.  Today we completed the circuit.  First, we hung Laura Bird’s Freedom and Cara Dyne’s Reader’s Response to Moby-Dick on the west side of the pillar.  We love the contrasting kinds of freedom depicted and explored in contrasting media.

laura & cara

Laura’s Freedom and Cara’s Reader’s Response to Moby-Dick

On the south side of the pillar we placed Kathleen’s The Women of New Bedford directly under Caitlin’s Whiteness triptych.  Seeing them together, I was amazed at the degree to which the elusive whiteness of the vertical female figure in Kathleen’s Women of New Bedford resembles that of her horizontal counterpart in Caitlin’s Whiteness sequence.

caitlin and kathleen women 2

Soon after we had fastened these three “loose fish” to the central pillar on the third floor, Kathleen and John Piercefield arrived with her monumental Queequeg for the rock garden.  She had written the night before that they had decided to wire and clamp his eight panels together and bring him whole. They had wrapped him very securely against the weather and we had arranged for them to bring him into the building through the freight door in the southeast corner of the building.  They were quite a sight as they brought him into the main reception area and carried him, with the help of a librarian, downstairs to be unpacked and lifted up into the rock garden.

Here comes Queequeg

Here comes Queequeg

Looking for a home

QQ turning the corner

opening QQ 2

opening QQ 3

Once Queequeg was out of his wrapping, Kathleen ascended the ladder and she and John brought him up into the garden and leaned him against the bright orange light standard.  He fit just as we had expected, resting securely on a small wooden board to cushion him from the rocks.  From now until May 15, Queequeg in his own proper person will dwarf everyone who enters the building behind him, but without their knowing it unless they walk up or down the staircase and see him from the north side.

Queequeg on the rocks

Queequeg on the rocks

What a difference a day makes!  Queequeg fills up the rock garden like it was made for him.  His noble stature and golden tones play off beautifully against Fred North’s Ishmael sailing off into the “howling infinite,” Aaron Zlatkin’s white whale impaling himself on the mast-heads, and Kathleen Piercefield’s Pip struggling for his life.  One essential figure was missing from this dramatic ensemble, the obsessed captain whose virulent obsession drives the plot of the novel and takes his entire crew, save one, down with him.  So the fifth artwork we placed in the rock garden was Ahab’s Leg by Christopher Roach, its golden color, beyond its black strap, a lovely match with the pervasive color of Queequeg’s print, but its ultimate fate, severed from its body and abandoned on the rocks, in the sharpest possible contrast to the glorious selfhood of the upright harpooneer.  My favorite view of the rock garden ensemble is from high above on the stairway, where, even in a diminished perspective, each of the five works is clearly seen, pulling the eye down with a vortical force similar to that which sucked the Peqoud and its sailors out of sight.

five on rocks from on high

Kathleen loved the spots we had found for Pip: Transcendence yesterday and for her Moby Dick, Headwaters, and Women of New Bedford prints this morning.  After she and John headed back to Dry Ridge, Emma Rose and I made our plans for the coming week.   After she left to teach her dance class, I stayed for an hour longer, taking some photos for this blog and catching up on emails that had come in during the day.

Caitlin Sparks and Jay Gray with White Whale Triptych

Caitlin Sparks and Jay Gray with White Whale triptych

Caitlin had said she had hoped to frame her three White Whale photos and get them to me by the end of the week.  Now, shortly before closing time on Friday, here she was with Jay, eager to walk upstairs and see how they looked in their designated place.  The three photos looked perfect on three successive stack fronts, and their elusive, alluring white bodies related well to those in Caitlin’s three Whiteness photos on the pillar below them to the right (as well as to the white female figure in The Women of New Bedford).  Caitlin and Jay looked as wonderfully as the art works did.  Today was exactly one week since their opening at the Weston Gallery had dramatically raised their profile as an artistic partnership in Greater Cincinnati.  After setting the White Whale photos high on the stack fronts, we discussed some of the ways in which their Numediacy partnership might document the upcoming Moby Arts Fest.  I will be commissioning them to document the four-day sequence in whatever way they think best, the end result to be posted on YouTube with a link to this blog.

Emma Rose and I felt we’d had an excellent week.  We had taken one day a time as its opportunities and challenges allowed.  This venue accommodated, and showcased, our artworks more capaciously and more professionally than we had imagined.  By the end of the week we could say, with Emily Dickinson, “[We] made slow Riches, but [our] Gain / Was steady as the Sun.”  We were weaving the “crosswise threads” of our matt-making pattern into a strong, shapely, living fabric.

Installing Moby, Day 3

Entry begun on Sunday, April 5, 7:15 am

Today is Easter Sunday, and I have time to get started on this entry before I drive over to sing in the choir at Trinity Episcopal Church, two blocks from the Covington library.  One of my fellow parishioners, Katie Davidson, is one of my Moby artists, and we are planning to exchange her artwork today for the copy of the catalog inscribed to her.

Thursday began as badly as the weather reports had predicted.  At about four the morning the leading edge of the storm front came in with one of those continuous low rumbles that sounds like a very heavy train or a straight-line tornado.  It was relatively quiet after that sound passed, and I was able to sleep again until awakened by a brutal burst of thunder and lightning that made me turn off my computer as a precaution even though I have a surge protector.

Emma Rose and I were planning to arrive at the library at 12:30, after my appointment with my eye doctor.  It was now three weeks after my second cataract surgery, so he would now be giving me a new prescription for my glasses.   At the library at 2:00, Emma Rose and I had scheduled a meeting with Christian Glass, a reporter from The Northerner, and Kathleen Piercefield was planning to bring her Moby pieces between 2:30 and 3:00.  Her home in Dry Ridge is about twenty-five miles south of Covington, and the storms were expected to be even more severe down in that direction, so I had emailed her in the morning not to come unless it was safe for her as well as the artworks she was planning to bring.  She had planned her day around this drive, so she was going to make it if she could.

Emma Rose’s mother Diane had a vacation day at work, so she came to the library to help watch over our things while we were elsewhere in the building.  This allowed us to make much better use of our time, and it also meant that we could bring in more pieces than otherwise without inconveniencing the library.  There was a pretty decent break in the weather when I arrived after the eye appointment, so we decided it would be good for me to run up to the University and get some of the framed pieces that remained in my office while we waited for Christian and Kathleen to arrive.

Mary Belperio with Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane

Mary Belperio with Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane

Before I left, we had a nice surprise.  Mary Belperio arrived with Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane, her abstract, tactile representation of Ishmael and Queequeng in bed together at the beginning of chapter 4.  I had been to Mary’s graduation party in December and both she and Snuggles looked better than ever.  I grabbed an easel and we took the artwork up to the spot Emma Rose and I had chosen for it, near the rail on the third floor balcony from which the quilts are hanging.

When I got back with today’s quota of artworks from my office, Emma Rose was already in the midst an interview with Christian Glass from The Northerner.  He had come down to the library because it was the only way to schedule an interview while we were working here this week, and we were both very impressed with his questions and his skill as a listener.  Soon after the interview with him, Kathleen arrived from Dry Ridge, and the fun began.

Kathleen Piercefield with Pip: Transcendence

Kathleen Piercefield with Pip: Transcendence

Kathleen has created many of the largest and most beautiful works in the show, and she had spent the whole morning packing prints into boxes as the storm buffeted her house.  I was bringing some her framed works from my own collection to the show, but she was today bringing many more.  These ranged in size from the 52-inch-wide Moby-Dick print that is the banner image for this website; to prints of intermediate size including a portrait of Ahab with Pip, two portraits of Pip alone, and the map of the Voyage of the Pequod; to smaller portraits of Queequeg, Daggoo, and Fedallah.  This was a veritable cornucopia of art, and Emma Rose and I felt like kids will be feeling on Easter egg hunts today as Kathleen pulled one artwork after another out of each securely wrapped and well-cushioned box.  I was especially thrilled to see her hold up Pip: Transcendence, an extraordinary print I had first seen when she exhibited it in Rockford, Illinois, in April 2009.

One placement was easy.  We took Kathleen’s original drawing for the map of the Voyage of the Pequod right up to the Local History room, where we had envisioned in hanging directly above the map case.  It looked as perfect there as we had hoped.

kathleen map 1

While we were up in this room, we found a space around the corner on this same central pillar that could hold Ahab: Thou must not follow, her dramatic, haunting evocation of Ahab’s relation to Pip late in the novel.  The photographs immediately above this mixed-media print are the ones that Michelle Cruey took of Melville’s South Street Seaport neighborhood during a visit to New York City in 2006.  We would later give the photos a backing that would reduce the glare.

michelle & kathleen 2

Our next destination was the rock garden.  Kathleen was eager to get into it so she could measure the exact height of the orange light standard against we had recently proposed installing her more-than-life-size Queequeg in his own proper person.  This mixed-media print on eight linked canvas, measuring 92 inches high by 40 inches wide, was our biggest challenge in mounting this show, and when the earlier idea of leaning it against the brick wall near Abby’s body casts did not work out, this appeared to be the next best choice.  If we could fit Kathleen’s Queequeg against this light standard rooted in an enclosed garden of rocks, we would not have to worry about library patrons running into it or dislodging its base.  Lashed to the back of the standard, it could stand straight up without fear of falling forward.

kathleen descendingKathleen had brought a metallic tape measure much longer than the standard six footer.  She was eager to get into the garden but she did not want to duplicate the “contortionist” motions she had seen me go through on the Facebook page.  All three of us decided the best way up in to the rock garden was not over the rail but rather using a tall ladder that allowed us to climb into the east end of the rock garden from the foot of the staircase after we had gotten the Life Buoy out of the way by transferring it to the other side of the staircase while we were going up and down on this side.

Once Kathleen got up into the garden, she was happy to see that the orange light standard could support Queequeg’s 92-inch height with about eight inches to spare.  She also found that his width, if centered on the pole, left sufficient clearance from the garden wall on the left.  So she immediately decided to pack him up tonight and bring him tomorrow, so long as the weather allowed.

Emma Rose and I now turned to our immediate objective in the garden on this day, to see where Kathleen’s vertical print entitled Pip: Surrender could best be placed in relation to Fred North’s Lee Shore and to Aaron Zlatkin’s Spouter-Inn Painting—Revealed, the painting we had left sitting on the rocks the day before.  Once we had thought about bringing Kathleen’s Queequeg into the garden, Emma Rose thought it would be great to surround him with companionable artworks.  Kathleen’s physical depiction of Pip’s spiritual struggle when abandoned at sea was in this sense a perfect counterpart to Fred’s Lee Shore and Aaron’s Spouter-Inn Painting as we awaited the arrival of the Queequeg that would anchor the rock garden as a whole.

Fred's Lee Shore, Aaron's Spouter-Inn Painting, and Kathleen's Pip:Surrender in rock garden

Fred’s Lee Shore, Aaron’s Spouter-Inn Painting, and Kathleen’s Pip: Surrender in rock garden

Once we had a plan for filling out the large rock garden to the south of the stairwell the next day, we could then turn to the much smaller configuration of rocks on the other side of the stairwell, right behind the head of Queequeg in her Coffin I.

emma abby far and nearEmma Rose felt this second rock surface as a curatorial challenge we had somehow to meet.  And I had been feeling the need for some third work to provide a link between the two Queequeg body casts.  I had already thought of Pip: Transcendence as being spiritually compatible with these works.  As soon as Kathleen brought it out of the box, with its contrast between Pip’s vertical, corporeal head and his horizontal, etherealized body, I wanted to see how this print would look between and above Abby’s two Queequegs.   I was very happy when Emma Rose carried it over to the edge of the smaller rock bed, stretched up, and set it there on a small tripod.

Alcove with five bodies

Alcove with five bodies

Before Kathleen left for Dry Ridge, Emma Rose and I took her to the back of the main reading room to see the places we had reserved on the stack fronts for her smaller portraits of Queequeg, Daggoo, and Fedallah.  She helped us install them, and we were all quite happy with the results, both among the three works themselves and in relation to the other images with which we were filling out this end of the room.  Kathleen had also brought Holly McAtee’s Queequeg, which is part of her own collection, with her today, so we could now hang it on the stack front next to the one with Holly’s Self-Portrait in Moby-Dick.

Kathleen’s Queequeg, Daggoo, and Fedallah on stack fronts in back of the main reading room.

Kathleen’s Queequeg, Daggoo, and Fedallah on stack fronts in back of the main reading room.

After Kathleen advised us on the hanging of the portraits on the stack fronts, she headed home to begin the process of preparing Queequeg for installation in the rock garden the next day. She and her husband John would have to test and secure all elements they had recently devised for wiring and clamping all eight canvases so they can stand together as one.  Given the dire weather forecast (it had rained hard on and off during her trip here today), they would have to protect tomorrow’s precious cargo from any exposure to rain and cushion it against any harmful physical contact (for which a couple of sword-mats would be nice to have).

Withmadonna of the tripod most of the major pieces in the show now under one roof, Emma Rose and I would be able to finalize some major areas of the exhibition the next day.  We are planning to arrive at 9:30 in the morning and work until 5 in the afternoon.  It had been very helpful to have her mother with us today and she is able to come again tomorrow.  Before we left the rock garden I had asked Emma Rose if I could take a photo of her holding one of our tripods. The fact that she is an Art History major who had spent her Spring Break seeing paintings in Florence and Rome made me think somehow of Raphael and the names by which he distinguished the various Madonnas he painted.  So I like to think of the photo of her here as the Madonna of the Tripod.  Or, if not that, the Madonna of the Rocks.


Installing Moby, Day 2

Entry begun Saturday, April 4, 1 pm

Honors House-5974I was happy that Professor Dave Kime could be at the Honors House to help me get Danielle Kleymeyer’s Shear down from its perch high over the door into the office of Honors Director Belle Zembrodt.  I thought we might need a work order from Physical Plant to get it down, but Dave was able to step up onto a chair, reach up into the midsection of the sculpture, and lift it off the support.  This was the same metallic relief whose razor-sharp edges had cut into Danielle’s leg and fingers while making it, and whose epoxy glue had gravely poisoned her dog, but Dave had no problems getting it down or taking it out to the car, where we laid it on the six-foot stretch that ran all the way up to the backs of the driver’s and passenger’s seats, leaving plenty of room for the two body casts we would soon be laying over it side by side.  After covering Shear with a blanket, we went in to slip Abby’s Queequeg in her Coffin II off the wall.  She had healed nicely from her ankle surgery, and was looking nearly good as new.

QQs tin car 2015After driving from the Honors House to the parking lot in front of Landrum Hall, I went up to get Queequeg in her Coffin I from my office.  I had moved her twice before for local exhibitions, so it was easy to lift her off the wall and head to the elevator with her.  I always forget, though, the attention she always draws.  Just about everyone seems to want to know what she is, how she was made, and why.  This tends to be even more so at close quarters in the elevator.  I felt a little twinge of excitement as I slipped her into the back of Joan’s Equinox alongside her sister figure.  This moment was their first reunion in eighteen years!  I took a photo to celebrate the moment, but their corporeal togetherness was cruelly undercut by the bright sunlight that sliced through just below their knees.  Not to be forgotten, the white tail of Danielle’s whale poked out beneath QQ I.

All three of these works would be rather awkward to set aside while you were working on something else, so just as soon as I brought them in the library, Emma Rose and I got to work at hanging them.  After exploring a few other options, we decided to hang Shear in middle of the stairway over the landing that leads to the lower floor.  This placement met our three primary concerns: that we hang it (a) securely; (b) where it cannot be easily reached; and (c) where its contrasting “Moby” and “Ahab” sides can easily be seen.  We have both always loved this work—Emma Rose had been a member of the Spring 2013 class in which Danielle created it—but never so much as now, when we first saw it hanging, and twisting slowly, in this wonderful space.

Ahab side of Danielle's Shear

Ahab side of Danielle’s Shear

Moby side of Danielle's Shear

Moby side of Danielle’s Shear

Once we had Shear in place, we turned to one of the most important challenges of the installation, hanging Abby’s two body casts in ways that would (a) relate to each other and (b) be secure on the wall.  We had originally hoped to hang them side by side on the high brick wall just a few feet north of the stairwell.  But Gary had made clear from the beginning that we would not be able put hanging screws in the brick wall.  Nor was there any hanging system such as the tracks and wires by which we had hung the Dickinson pieces in the Steely Library.  There were two air vents about ten feet up on the brick wall that we thought would be strong enough to hold the body casts, and Gary agreed.  The problem was that one of the vents is almost directly above important information for responding to emergencies in the building, which would have been partly covered by the second cast.

shadow on brick  9-20

Our first decision was to hang Queeequeg in her Coffin II from the one vent nearest the window, where the strong, clear writing that covers her body could be easily read by someone standing near the wall.  Queequeg in her Coffin I was more of a challenge, because we had no way to hang her, too, against the brick wall.  This problem resolved quite nicely when we realized that if we hung her from one of the brackets for the stairwell rail above and across from her sister figure, her own form would snuggle into the corner of the lower alcove directly across from her counterpart on the brick wall.  This solution, born of necessity, put the two shapes in richer relation than if we had been able to suspend them side by side as we had originally hoped to do.

emma facing abbys

After hanging these two shapes, we decided to find a spot for their younger, smaller protean sister, the Life Buoy whose shell Abby had cast when pregnant with her daughter Kallisto (Kalli).  We liked the idea of hanging it in close relation to the Children’s section here on the lower level, so we looked for a way to suspend it above the wider alcove on the other side of the stairwell.  As with Shear, we had three priorities: to hang it (a) securely; (b) where it could not easily be reached; and (c) where both sides could be easily seen.  One side of this Life Buoy is the hard outer shell of the cast on whose night sky surface the constellation for which Kalli was named glows.  Inside the shofter inner shell, Abby’s writings as a young mother are collaged alongside photos and other images representing her infant daughter.

emma life buoy 2

Outer shell of Life Buoy with constellation

emma life buoy

Interior space of Life Buoy with texts and images

Testing out Fred North's Lee Shore in rock garden

Testing out Fred North’s Lee Shore in rock garden

After hanging Life Buoy off the south side of the lower staircase, it was time to populate the rock garden occupying the southwest corner of the stairwell.  Gary has always considered this space to be underutilized, and he invited us to think about displaying suitable works above the rocks on easels.  I immediately thought of the large canvas painted by Fred North in 1994 that had opened the way for the other hundred-plus works in this exhibition.   Fred’s Lee Shore is 40 inches high by 30 inches wide, large enough in scale to read well on an easel in a rock garden.   Such a location would be highly appropriate since Melville’s “Lee Shore” chapter dramatizes the plight of a “storm-tossed ship” that must sail directly out into the strorm because “one touch of land, though it would but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through.”

The glassed-in railing on the stairwell aide of the rock garden was a little too high simply to climb over, especially since the garden was a little deeper on the far side than the stairwell landing.  So Gary had brought me a little two-step ladder that might help me get back and forth if needed.  That worked quite well when climbing over the rail into the garden, but for some reason it was not quite so easy coming back.  Emma Rose captured my awkward return in a quartet of photos she posted on Facebook–much to the delight of some of my friends.  I can see from the last photo why I had a deep bruise on my left forearm the next morning.  That woman on the other side of the glass window missed an entertaining sight.  I had set a second painting on the rocks after positioning The Lee Shore in the far corner, but we had only one easel handy, so we left its final disposition for another day.

emma bob rocks 1

It felt good to be back on land, as it were.  Or maybe it is more accurate to say back on board, since one of my Moby artists now out in Nebraska had immediately commented on the Facebook post with “Man overboard,”  Emma Rose and I now decided to spend the rest of the afternoon thinking about two areas of the main floor of the library: (a) the large slatted wall outside the back of the meeting room and (b) the upper stack fronts at the end of the reading room.

The weather report for the next two days included possibly violent thunderstorms on Thursday and constant, heavy rain on Friday, so I decided to make a quick run to my home in Bellevue in Joan’s Equinox to get the large Moby pieces by Carola Bell, Stephen Wheeler, Veronica Mitchell, and Cara Dyne that we would we would want to have on hand the next day as we decided how to respond to the loss of that long horizontal wall to the right of the display case.  For today, we could hang some of them temporarily on the large oblong wall across from the horizontal one.  And upstairs there was room to store a new work immediately underneath the Whiteness triptych in the window transom that Caitlin had brought in earlier in the day, now hanging on the south side of the central pillar in the Local History room.

Caitlin’s Whiteness photos in repurposed window tansom

Caitlin’s Whiteness photos in repurposed window tansom

While I was away getting the large Moby pieces, Emma Rose could think about what would look best high on the stack fronts in the back of the main reading room.  She could also begin to think about how to arrange the display case, which we were currently using mostly for safe storage.  In the morning I had brought in Nancy Vagedes ceramic Moby-Dick sculpture along with Abby’s two body casts and Danielle’s Shear.   For now, we were storing it at the bottom of the display case in front of Camilla Asplen’s The Whale as a Dish cookbook.  Nancy’s rising ceramic whale is an imposing piece even down near one’s feet, making Ahab in the little whaleboat look even smaller than he is.

lower layer display case

geico moby in passenger seat 2Earlier in the day, Nancy’s ceramic White Whale had rested comfortably against the passenger seat of the Equinox as I drove into the library parking lot.  I had parked facing the sun, leaving Moby comfortably in the shade, with only a lovely glow on his forehead.  By contrast, Ahab’s harpoon and head were bleached by the bright sun.  I had not thought, like Emma Rose, to protect my sculptural cargo with a seat belt, but Moby seems happy being free.  In the photo, I see him as the automotive equivalent of a “loose fish” in the ocean.  Sitting in Joan’s passenger seat, he would be a wonderful stand-in for the iguana in the Geico auto insurance commercials.

I had parked facing the sun to keep its slicing light from cutting through the legs of the passengers behind me.  Now, when I opening the back of the Equinox, a soft harmonizing light bathed the sister figures.  As I saw them resting together there, I thought of Ishmael’s feelings for Bulkington, his “sleeping-partner” shipmate in the voyage of life.

QQs in car 3

Installing the Moby Show, Day 1

Entry begun Wednesday, April 1, 7:20 am

The installation process can change day by day and even hour by hour, so I will try to keep track of our work this week as it unfolds.

Emma Rose and I arrived as planned at noon on Monday, my car holding most of what we planned to work with that day.  We had decided to begin in the Local History section on the third floor, and everything worked out essentially as we had hoped.   Brian Cruey’s sequence of five Moby photographs from 1996-97 look great on the stackfronts leading to the north window, and his sister Michelle’s sequence of four photos taken near South Street Seaport in 2006 face them nicely on the north side of the room’s central pillar.

brian's photosCaitlin Sparks came in carrying her Captain Ahab sequence in two recycled window frames, and they look just as we had hoped they would on either side of the north window facing the buildings across the street.  The pinks of the photos match the colors of the bricks and the spatial dance among the various kinds of window frames is delightful.

captain ahab and brick wall 4

While Caitlin was here we discussed our plans for her other two photo sequences in this room, mounting her three White Whale photos on three stack fronts, and the Whiteness triptych in her window transom somewhere on the central pillar.  She will bring these works in later this week, after she frames the White Whales and finds that window transom somewhere in her basement.  Before she left, we also discussed the possibility of having Numediacy provide some visual documentation of the four-day Arts Fest.  She and Jay live in Covington and have already done a good deal of documentary work in the city.

Our next goal on the first day was to get as much as we could in the main display case downstairs, both to see what we had to work with and as a good storage area for small pieces.  Danielle Wallace’s Moby-Dick Tea Set II looked pretty much as we had hoped on the top shelf of the case as currently configured.  Emma Rose set the tea pot at the far right, leaving room for the three paintings of Rob Detmering’s Pasteboard Mask sequence to provide a colorful, abstract background for the cups themselves.  Since the paintings, like the cups, are inspired by specific characters and scenes in the novel, the visual interplay is deepened by the thematic links—as will become clearer when we get our labels up.  For now, the other objects in the case are randomly placed.  We will see what goes where after all the pieces have arrived.

rob and tea set 2

So far our original plans were going well.  But at this point we found out from Gary that we will not be able to use that beautiful horizontal slatted expanse to the right of the main display case on which we had planned to hang our five most striking depictions of whales.  The artworks currently there are important to the history of the city and the library would have  nowhere to properly store them if they were temporarily removed for our show.  This was a blow that Emma Rose said showed very clearly on my face when Gary gave us the news.  But this is a capacious building with a variety of spaces we can bring into play, so we are confident that we can find an appropriate place for each of these signature works.  One or more of them may migrate across to the large slatted wall onto which we had projected our sequence of nine other works in clockwise sequence last week.  Chance having now delivered “the concluding blow” to our plans for the horizontal space, necessity and free will combine to “produce a corresponding contrast in the final aspect of the completed fabric.”

laura beth Ahab 2Our other main goal for this day was to see what we could do with the quilts by Laura Beth Thrasher we were planning to hang from the balcony rail.  We spread all seven out on tables in the Local History room and decided to use them all.  The two new ones are not in our catalog but we are happy to have them in our show.   Each is relatively small, abstract, and conceptual.  Ahab 2 takes the darkness of Laura Beth’s nautical Ahab into an even deeper and darker psychic space, the beady whites and blacks of his eyes and pupils being stitched with thread upon thread upon thread.


laura beth rootsLaura Beth made Roots for a group project on the roots of inspiration.  She chose as her “roots” the pages from Moby-Dick she expertly collaged into her quilted surface.  These included the opening paragraph of “Loomings” that inspired not only her own Call me Ishmael quilt but also the Coffin Warehouse photo that is the first in Brian Cruey’s series of five photos now on the stack fronts on the third floor.


Emma Rose and I had the idea of hanging these seven quilts from the balcony rail overlooking the entrance to the main floor, but we did not yet have the experience or the equipment for doing so.  Blessedly, Laura Beth had sewn hanging sleeves onto the back of each quilt.  Each of the smaller quilts also had a stick or rod that fit in the sleeve for hanging the quilt.  But the three largest quilts, Moby-Dick, The Whiteness of the Whale, and Call Me Ishmael, were without rods.  We had heard that fish line would work well for hanging the quilts and Gary confirmed that this would be fine.  So we were now in need three long rods and some fish line.

How to hang these?

How to hang these?

Emma Rose had learned during our Dickinson show that dowel rods were usually thirty inches or shorter in length.  We needed rods longer than that for each of our three widest quilts.  To find both the rods and the line we needed, we thought we might need to drive in a loop from the Wal-Mart out near NKU, to Dick’s Sporting Goods in Newport , to Pilot Lumber in Bellevue.  But I had once been in Klingenberg’s Hardware here in Covington, only a block and a half away from the library, and I thought that might be a good place to start.  We entered from the Pike Street side and found what we needed just inside the klingenberg 3door.  Aided by an extremely helpful employee, we were soon walking out of the store with three long, strong, extendable curtain rods, and a whole reel of hundred-pound fish line.

Now were ready to return to the balcony rail and hang our quilts.  We knew we would want Moby-Dick, 54 x 62 ½ inches, in the center.  And we would want to begin with Call Me Ishmael from the viewer’s far left and end with Epilogue at the far right.  From there it seemed natural to hang the two Ahabs between Call Me Ishmael and Moby-Dick, and The Whiteness of the Whale between Moby-Dick and Epilogue, with Laura Beth’s Roots under her Epilogue.

Now we settled into the quiet, patient work of knotting the fish line to each end of each rod before dropping its quilt over the side, fishing it back up toward the rail until its top edges on each side were even with the top of the glass panel beneath rail that we had chosen as our horizon line.  Once we had reached, and secured, the proper alignment, we went on to the next quilt, careful to position each one on a part of the rail along which it could slide, if necessary.  It was a little trickier executing the two double hangs than the single ones, but these actually turned out pretty well too.

all seven quilts

We had gone down to the reception area beneath the balcony several times to check our progress, and once all seven were installed, we liked how they looked, both from the front, looking up from below, and up on the balcony, where you could see the stitching on the back of each quilt, something Emma Rose had foreseen in suggesting that we hang each one directly in front of the glass panel.

seven verso quilts

I am only realizing this as I am writing now, but our quilts are hanging over the rail of the balcony much as sword-mats hung over the rails of a whale ships.  But in this case, the object is not to cushion a blow, but rather to raise the eyes of passersby by, and maybe their spirits too.  As we were working, we saw a lot people, staff as well as patrons, look up at what we were doing.  It was great to see four young kids gazing up at the quilts as their parents were checking out books and videos.  A women who said she works at one of the restaurants out near the university said, “These are just beautiful.”  One tall man paused near the balcony rail as we were working.  I asked if he came to the library very often, and he said, “Every day since I became homeless.”  I asked where he stays these days, and he pointed out through the window, “Over in the Cold Shelter.”  He was curious about the art we were installing and he knew about Moby-Dick, so I asked if he would like to read in the Marathon, but he said he’d pass for now.

This first day had been very satisfying.  We got a good start on the installation and we were beginning to get a feel for the library, its spaces, and its patrons.  We would not be back on Tuesday, because we had each planned our schedule around our 2 pm meeting in my office at the school.

Immediately before meeting with Emma Rose on Tuesday, I met with Dustin Enockson and two of his associates from the Barnes & Noble Bookstore at NKU.  They had offered to sell a variety of books during the course of the four-day Arts Fest,  and this was our first opportunity to discuss the most desirable books and to address some of the logistical issues at each successive venue.

On Wednesday, April first, Emma Rose and I had agreed to meet at the library at noon, after I had picked up four of our large three-dimensional works–Abby Schlachter’s two body casts, Danielle Kleymeyer’s Shear, and Nancy Vagedes’ ceramic White Whale—from the Honors House and my office at the school.  My wife Joan kindly loaned her SUV for this task.

After getting home on Tuesday I was surprised to get an email from Emma Rose.  Before leaving my office that afternoon, we had decided to take a few small pieces home that we could put in the display case the next day.  She had taken Ahab’s Iron Crown by Landon Jones that Robert Del Tredici had recently praised in his email.  To keep Ahab’s crowned head from flying forward if she made a sudden stop, she put him in a seat belt in her passenger seat.  The photo she sent me that night made me think of the last time we see Ahab in the novel.  After he thrust his harpoon at Moby for the last time, “the flying turn” of the whale line “caught him round the neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring their victim, he was shot out of the boat.”

Ahab takes a ride

Weaving the Loom of Time

Entry begun Monday, March 30, at 5:00 am

Emma Rose and I are planning to begin our installation of the Moby show in Covington at 12:30 today.  So this is a good chance to revisit some of last week’s work before this week begins.  When I woke up with thoughts in my head just now, I thought my watch said 6:00, so I decided to get this entry started before the alarm rang at 6:15.  Now that I am online, I see that it is 5, not 6 am, so I will keep this beginning short and sleep a little more.

Loom for sword-mat illustrated in Text-Book of Seamanship (1891)

Loom for sword-mat illustrated in Text-Book of Seamanship (1891)

In chapter 47, “The Mat-Maker,” Ishmael is helping to weave a “sword mat,” a “lashing” that will help cushion the Pequod against blows from foreign objects.  As he handles his part of the job, he feels “as if this were the Loom of Time, and I myself a shuttle mechanically weaving and weaving away at the Fates.  There lay the fixed threads of the warp subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanging vibration . . . . This warp seemed necessity; and here, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into these unalterable threads.  Meantime, Queequeg’s impulsive, indifferent sword, sometimes hitting the woof slantingly, or crookedly, or strongly, or weakly, as the case might be; . . . . this savage’s sword, thought I, which thus finally shapes and fashions both warp and woof ; this easy, indifferent sword must be chance—aye, chance, free will, and necessity—no wise incompatible—all interweavingly working together.  The straight warp of necessity, not to be swerved from in its ultimate course .  . . ; free will still free to ply her shuttle between the given threads; and chance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of necessity, and sidewise in its motions directed by free will, though thus proscribed by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the last featuring blow at events.”

So it is with Emma Rose and me weaving this show.  Our 105 artworks by 53 students are our “fixed threads.”  Last Thursday, as we finished our first projections for laying out the entire show within the three floors of this library and its stairwell, I was plying my shuttle though our fixed threads as she continued to shape the weave with her own sword, the “final fabric” as we projected it last week now subject this week to the interweaving motions of chance and free will as we begin today to actually install the show.

Queequeg in her Coffin II over stairwell in Honors House

Queequeg in her Coffin II over stairwell in Honors House

Last Monday afternoon, I met Abby Schlachter Langdon at the Honors House at 12:30 so she could repair Queequeg in her Coffin II, the inscribed body cast she had created in 1997 for our joint exhibition with students of Robert McCauley in Rockford, Illinois.  Moby artist Robert Del Tredici had become owner of the work, and last year, contemplating a move from his home in Montreal, donated it to our Honors House for the benefit of future students.  We had originally installed it high over the stairway to the basement near the entrance of the house.  A few weeks ago we moved it down closer to the stairs in anticipation of its going to Covington for the exhibition, and at this point it became evident that its left foot would require some surgery to repair the gash that had been made in its ankle so in could fit into the box in which it flew from Canada.  I was grateful that Abby could come out, tools in hand, to fix the foot before this plaster shell from her younger body is taken down the hill and across the river to Covington for the show.

Abby taking QQ II to Room 111

Abby taking QQ II to Room 111

After looking at the cut, Abby took her cast off the wall and carried it to room 111, which we had reserved for the early afternoon.   She laid the cast on a piece of plastic and unpacked the repair kit she had brought with her. To fix the foot, she turned the body face down on the plastic, revealing a much stronger superstructure than she had remembered giving to it.  She filled a bucket with water and dipped plaster patches into it before gently layering them over the area of the wound.  Left to dry overnight, the cast would be ready to hang again the next morning.

Repair kit for ankle surgery

Repair kit for ankle surgery

Happy artist and healing patient

Happy artist and healing patient

After Abby had finished the repairs, we both spent some time reading the inscriptions with which she had covered the entire cast eighteen years ago.  They remain completely legible.  She had forgotten much of what she had written then.  She said, “I really had some strong opinions, then.  And I still do!”  As we walked over to the café in Steely library, she brought me up to date with the lives of her son Brody and her daughter Kalli.  And she discussed two new Moby-Dick works she would like to create for a show I am hoping to mount in Cincinnati in 2016.  One is a floating White Whale about five feet in length.  Another is a white sheet onto which she would transfer a likeness of her current form, collaged over with warrior tattoos from Polynesian cultures.  She is right now participating in a project sponsored by Art Works in Cincinnati which she will be one of dozens of individuals tattooed with related texts, so that they will communally become one “living parchment.”

After chatting with Abby at the cafe, I walked down one floor in the library for a 3 pm meeting with the students who had helped run the Dickinson Marathon in February.  We were meeting now in the Dickinson exhibition space to plan how we would organize the Moby Marathon in April.  This Marathon will take 24 rather than 15 hours, so we will require the equivalent of six four-hour shifts of two people each.  I was grateful that three of my Dickinson stalwarts—Matt Ruiz, Rebecca Hudgins, and Megan Beckerich—could make this meeting.  Matt has recently gotten a job at the Cincinnati Zoo at which he will be working on Saturday and Sunday, April 25 and 26, but he volunteered to work an evening shift from 5:30 to 9 each day.  Rebecca and Megan volunteered for their shifts and expect to find friends to help them.  Kaitlin Mills from Loch Norse and Minadora Macheret from the Associated Graduate Students of English had not been able to make the meeting, but they will be helping out, as will Bob Durborow from Sigma Tau Delta.  We will have one more meeting of this student planning group, that one in the exhibition space in Covington after the show is mostly installed.

Right after the meeting with the students in the library I had an appointment in my office with students from The Northerner, our campus newspaper.  They are holding a contest this semester in which readers will choose the most unusual office on campus, and they have chosen mine as one of the candidates.  Managing editor Carrie Crozier had come by a week before to ask my permission, and today she came with videographer Lindsay Rudd and web editor Kody Kahle to interview me and take some photographs and video.  I was surprised that they ran the story, with photographs, only two days later.  I was even more surprised, when the online version was posted at the end of the week, to see a 360-degree panorama of the books and artworks in my office.  You can see them here:

One of the still photos in the online version shows a wide-angle view of the office that I am unable to get with my I-phone camera.  It shows Emily Hyberger’s Kedger Piece on a bookshelf and works by Kathleen Piercefield, Jessica Wimsatt, Abby Schlachter, Amanda Monds, Laura Bird, Aaron Zlatkin, Kayla Hardin, and Nancy Vagedes at the far end of the room.

Photo of Landrum 536 by Kody Kahle

Photo of Landrum 536 by Kody Kahle

Map of the Voyage of the Pequod in need of repair

Map of the Voyage of the Pequod in need of repair

Last Tuesday afternoon I met with Emma Rose as usual from 2 to 3.  I then took the copy of Kathleen Piercefield’s map of the Voyage of the Pequod from the Dean’s office over to the Fine Arts Gallery, where gallery director David Knight has volunteered to re-secure it to the backing from which the print has slipped a bit. Paintings, prints, and sculptures can be timeless in their spiritual aspiration, but their physical bodies, like our own, need treatment and care.


bio flyer scan

On Wednesday I met with John Carmen, a young assistant professor in the Biology department who has invited me to discuss last summer’s whale ship voyage as part of a lecture on Melville and Science in April 7.  It was great to meet with him, to learn about the students most likely to attend this monthly seminar series, and to ask him about which elements of Melville’s interest in science are likely to interest my audience.  John did not think that any of the students are likely to have read Moby-Dick—nor are they likely to know that today the book is highly appreciated for its ecological vision.  It was great to be able to discuss with John some of the differences between “natural science” and “cetology,” as Melville understood these terms, and to indicate some of the ways in which our Moby-Dick art exhibition, Marathon Reading, and Symposium will be addressing contemporary ecological issues.

Last Thursday was the day Emma Rose and I met in Covington to plot out the rest of the exhibition.  We had solidified our ideas for the third floor and the stairwell the previous week; on this day we focused on the main floor, beginning with the display case just beyond the reception desk.  It was obvious that in this case we would want the ceramic works by Danielle Wallace and Nancy Vagedes, the sculpted head of Ahab by Landon Jones, and the finger puppets by Sarah Eichelberger.  We also selected a variety of small 2-D works that would fit nicely in this case and interact well with the 3-D pieces.

Main display, with horizontal wall space to the right

Main display case, with horizontal wall space to the right

Our next area to discuss was the long horizontal space above the bookcases to the right of the display case.  We very quickly came up with our wish list for this prominent space, one of the few in the library that lends itself so naturally to an art exhibition.  We agreed right away to devote this space to large, striking images of the whale.  After measuring the space, we decided to begin with Kathleen Piercefield’s Moby Dick at the far left and follow with Steven Wheeler’s The Worsting of Ahab, Piercefield’s From the Headwaters of the Eternities, Veronica Mitchell’s The Third Day # 2, and Cara Dyne’s Three Perspectives on the White Whale.  After we had projected this sequence, Emma Rose noted that Piercefield’s and Dyne’s white whales would be swimming off the wall at either end in opposite directions, with Piercefield’s sperm-whale eye in the center anchoring the whole.  It was as if the works themselves had decided where to go.

Exhibition space outside back of main meeting room

Exhibition space outside back of main meeting room

We turned next to perhaps the most inviting wall space in the entire building, just outside the door into the back of the meeting room in which we will be holding the Marathon.  This space measures 82 x 152 inches, so we estimated we could probably fit four medium-size pieces in two horizontal rows for a total of eight.  We determined together which of the eight remaining pieces would be strongest for this particular space   We then worked out our separate ideas for how to mount those eight in this space.  Our ideas are often very compatible, but in this case they differed entirely.  I projected the eight in two sequences of four, trying also to get some interplay between the upper and lower levels.  Emma Rose projected hers as a counterclockwise whole, with room for a ninth piece, Piercefield’s Pip: Surrender, linking the top and bottom at the far right.   As soon as she proposed this holistic design, I adopted it.

book shelf front display 9-20Our last major display area on the main floor would be the stack fronts at the far end of the room.  Eleven stacks march across the room from left to right in groups of four, four, two, and one.  The upper sections of each would lend themselves nicely to sequencing of relatively light, medium-sized work.  Emma Rose proposed a thematic sequence running from Aaron Zlatkin’s Spouter-Inn Painting at the far left to Robert Raper’s Court of Inquiry . . . into the Wreck of the Pequod at the far right—with depictions of various characters and scenes in between.  All of these projected plans will be fun to test out once we start the actual installation this afternoon.

overhead for quilt hang

Overhead space for quilt hang

I have not yet mentioned the first space visitors will see on the main floor.  Right inside the entrance we will be able to suspend quilts from the balcony overhead.  The only quilts for this particular show are by Laura Beth Thrasher, but there are plenty to choose from.  Her magnificent Moby-Dick quilt, 54 x 62 inches, will be a major part of this hang.  So will the Call Me Ishmael I currently have on loan from my former student Ellen Bayer.  Laura Beth is willing to loan three others she made at the time of my course (Ahab, Epilogue, and The Whiteness of the Whale) as well as two others she has made since (Ahab 2 and Roots).   I met her this weekend at a local bookstore, after which I was able to spread out the five quilts she had brought me on my living room floor.  Behind them I placed the painting I harvested on the way home from the bookstore, Shawn Buckenmeyer’s I & Q, depicting Ishmael and Queequeg as female.  Shawn’s painting was generously loaned by her friend Chuck Heffner, who would now be her husband were it not for her sudden, inexplicable death one year ago (see my tribute to Shawn in the blog inspired by my voyage on the Charles W. Morgan).

Shawn Buckenmeyer’s I&Q with five Moby quilts from Laura Beth Thrasher’s home

Shawn Buckenmeyer’s I & Q with five Moby quilts from Laura Beth Thrasher’s home

rdt ubiquitous from rdt

Robert Del Tredici, Moby Ubiquitous, 2014

Other significant Moby-related activities were going on during this week of preparation for the Covington installation.  Steven Matijcio was gathering information and images from Matt Kish and Robert Del Tredici for the announcement he would soon be making about their joint Moby show at Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center from April to August 2016.  Matt sent Steven several recent drawings of whales I had not previously seen as a foretaste of the drawings of whales in Melville’s “Cetology” chapter he plans to create for CAC in 2016.  Bob sent images of two of his most recent “metallic” prints.  What a wonderful contrast it will be to see these two artists’ most recent works in the context of each one’s earliest obsessive immersion in the world of Melville.

A “loose-fish” Kish in advance of 2016

A “loose-fish” Kish in advance of 2016

During this same week I heard from two Moby-Dick artists who had received our Moby catalog.  Robert McCauley in Mount Vernon, Washington, was moved by all the work that had been created since the joint student exhibition we had called the Landlocked Gam in 1997.  “Beautiful,” he wrote of the catalog.  Then he became metaphorical.  “It’s the straw inside the scarecrow, the worms that fill the bait box, the gray matter between the ear buds.  In short, it’s the most relevant example of true Liberal Arts.”  In a follow-up email, Robert said he is about ready to start a new painting that I am very eager to see: “a sperm whale (white) fighting one of our giant Pacific octopus (red).”

Robert Del Tredici began his message from Montreal by saying “I have received with great joy yours and Emma’s quirky transcendent Book of Whales, a tremendous opus.  .  .  .  The book has been laid out beautifully. The method is perfect: portrait, quotes, artwork. Congratulations to Emma for finding exactly the right approach. . . . Under your tutelage, those wobbly kids jumped right into the spirit of the endeavor the same way I did! What the hell is it about this book that ignites the interlinked passions and visualizations of its readers? There is a cosmic principle at work in this. Whatever it is, it fuelled Melville mightily and buzz-saws its way right through readers too . . . it affects everyone.”

Bob followed these general comments with these quick, probing responses to “works from the book that right off caught my eye.  Rob Detmering’s 3 great abstractions, so genuine: these and 49 more, including the Joker, should be an entire deck of cards!  Amanda Monds’ Queegqueg Suddenly Rallied: truly a leap outside the text and into reality, this eyeball-to-socket encounter with Big Mister D makes the viewer rally too.  Clara Dyne’s 3 perspectives on the whale — such a Great visual idea, and that perfect expression on the whale’s face; this is rare.  Ben de Angelis’ computer imagery: bold as a Pepsi Cola ad, it cuts right into the commercial visualization realm, with soul.  Chuck Rust’s Heart-Throb in the Deep: what an image–crudely done, but no matter: it is a true addition to the iconography of Moby Dick. A stunning conception.  Landon Jones’ Iron Crown: the Face of Ahab in this sculpture is worthy of Rodin. Uplifting, hopeless, all-pervasive. There are many more good ones besides these; these are just the ones that grabbed me by the lapels and shook me by my collar-bones.”

For a teacher, it is wonderful, and rare, to receive such appreciation for what students have done.  Many of the works Bob mentions have already appeared in this blog.  All of them will soon be on display in Covington.  I have just now got back from our first installation day.  Rob Detmering’s “great abstractions,” his sequence of pasteboard masks entitled Peppermint Ahab, Polka Dick, and Cobweb Ishmael, are currently sitting on the top shelf of the main display case with Danielle Wallace’s Moby-Dick Tea Set II.

First works enter the main display case on Monday, March 30

First works enter the main display case on Monday, March 30

I saw two more of my local Moby artists here in Greater Cincinnati this weekend.  On Friday night, Caitlin Sparks, with her artist partner Jay Gray, opened their first major Cincinnati show in the Weston Art Gallery at the Aronoff Center.  As part of a group exhibition entitled Too Shallow for Diving: The Weight of Water, Caitlin and Jay created a multichannel video and audio installation exploring the effects of the multimillion-dollar Lick Run Watershed project along the Queen City Avenue corridor upon the residents of the Fairmont neightborhood of Cincinnati.  Having known Jay since he was a student in my English 291 course in writing about the arts, and Caitlin since she was a student in my Honors course in Moby and the Arts, it is wonderful to see what they are achieving together in the artist collaborative they are calling Numediacy.  The opening night of their show was mesmerizing in both image and sound, catching the look, the heart, and the soul of a neighborhood many Cincinnatians drive through without a thought, documenting a community in a way that can never be recreated once everything is, soon, irremediably changed.

Jay Gray and Caitlin Sparks in their opening at the Weston Art Gallery on March 27

Jay Gray and Caitlin Sparks in their opening at the Weston Art Gallery on March 27

The final artwork I harvested this weekend for the Covington show was Abby Schlachter Langdon’s Life Buoy.  This was her third Moby-Dick body cast, the one she cast from her own belly when pregnant with her daughter Kalli, who is now nine years old.  On Sunday evening she brought it to my house in a purplish container.  When I lifted the lid, the concave shape was wrapped like a babe in swaddling clothes.  I will have to wait until the installation this week to see the artwork itself, inside and out.

Abby Schlachers Life Buoy, not yet delivered to Covington exhibition space

Abby’s Life Buoy, not yet delivered to Covington exhibition space